WASHINGTON — Anti-abortion activists have given Congress lengthy, unedited videos they recorded showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing their retrieval of fetal tissue, a Republican House committee chairman said Wednesday.
Democrats complained that the recordings seemed to be copies and not originals. That could mean they wouldn't help resolve conflicting claims about whether the videos — including shorter versions that abortion foes began posting online this summer — were misleadingly edited.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed the recordings last month as part of an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood has illegally sold tissue from aborted fetuses for profit.
The chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he has set up a viewing room where Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides can see the recordings. He said the videos will not be released to the public now "out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety and security of all individuals recorded."
Chaffetz said the footage contains nearly 800 gigabytes of data, which he said means it will take investigators "significant time to evaluate." Though recording techniques vary and make estimates difficult, that amount of data is roughly equivalent to several dozen DVDs worth of movies.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee's top Democrat, said in a written statement that aides who examined the videos think they are copies. He also complained that the GOP was refusing to give Democrats their own external hard drives containing the data so they could conduct their own forensic investigation of them.
Cummings said that violated the panel's subpoena, which required one copy for each party, and "furthers the impression that the committee is trying to cover for" the activists who made the videos.
The Center for Medical Progress, a small group of abortion foes who secretly recorded the conversations, says the videos show Planned Parenthood has broken the law by profiting from the tissue sales.
In an email Wednesday, the center's founder, David Daleiden, said it had turned over "all the raw undercover recordings in their original format" to the committee. He said the videos provided evidence of a criminal conspiracy "to sell baby parts for profit."
Planned Parenthood says it did nothing illegal and only accepted payments covering the costs of retrieving the tissue, which it provides to medical researchers. The group announced Tuesday that it would no longer charge anything for the tissue.
Planned Parenthood says videos that the activists have previously released publicly were deceptively edited to distort the conversations. On Wednesday, it said it doubted that Daleiden had given Congress full, unedited footage, saying he has "lied for months" about the videos and has previously said he has several terabytes of footage — a far larger amount.
"This is a fraud, intended to deceive the public in order to advance an extreme political agenda to ban safe and legal abortion in this country," said Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero.
Three other congressional committees are also investigating Planned Parenthood, and the Republican-run House has created a special panel to conduct a probe.